Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith

A Posse of Princesses

A Posse of Princesses
by Sherwood Smith

Trade Paperback: 299 pages
Publisher: Norilana Books
First Released: 2008

Author Website

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Rhis, princess of a small kingdom, is invited along with all the other princesses in her part of the world to the coming of age party of the Crown Prince of Vesarja, which is the central and most important kingdom. When Iardith, the prettiest and most perfect of all the princesses, is abducted, Rhis and her friends go to the rescue.

What happens to Rhis and her posse has unexpected results not only for the princesses, but for the princes who chase after them. Everyone learns a lot about friendship and hate, politics and laughter, romantic ballads and sleeping in the dirt with nothing but a sword for company. But most of all they learn about the many meanings of love.

This is a young adult fantasy "battle of court manners" novel. If you liked Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel book, then you'll likely enjoy this book. I certainly did.

The world-building and pacing were very good. The characters were engaging and realistically varied. The characters learned a lot of good lessons about making friends, why bullies can be mean, and so on, but the lessons don't come across as lectures. There was romance in the book, but no sex. Overall, it was a "good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
From the tower lookout in the royal castle--highest tower in all the kingdom of Nym--Princess Rhis peered down through the misting rain at a messenger on the road.

This rider slumped in the saddle of a long-legged lowlands race-horse that was now plodding up the steep road, occasionally hidden by tall stands of deep green fir. The messenger had to be from the lowlands. Anyone raised in Nym's mountains knew that the only animal for the steep roads was a pony. Their sturdy bodies and short legs fared better on steep slopes. The rider's cloak was crimson, a bright splash of color even in the gloom of a rainy afternoon. None of Nym's royal messengers wore crimson cloaks. This one must be an equerry from the Queen of faraway Vesarja, she thought, and turned away from the window to resume pacing around the little room.

Once, many years ago, the old tower had been a lookout for Nym's warriors, no longer necessary since the kingdom had established magical protection. Now the small, stone tower room had become Rhis's private retreat.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You
by Ally Carter

Trade Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a fairly typical all-girls school--typical, that is, if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and if all students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy claims to be a school for geniuses, but it’s really a school for spies.

Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways, she has no idea what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she’s an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, or track him through town with the skill of a real “pavement artist”--but can she have a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her?

Cammie Morgan may be an elite spy-in-training, but in her sophomore year, she’s on her most dangerous mission--falling in love.

This book is a YA romance, spy-style. Pretty much everything about this book--the spy gadgets, spy stories, numerous hidden passageways, and so on--are all wildly implausible, but the story is nonetheless extremely funny (if you enjoy this type of humor). The overall tone of the book is very light and funny, but it ends on a serious note. The pacing was excellent, the world-building was good, and the characters were engaging.

However, I had a problem with the ending. Cammie has to decide what she wants in her future. In the last chapter, she's made that decision and is satisfied with it--and so was I. Then the author plays a trick on both Cammie and the reader, making us think she can have both instead of either/or, only to cruelly rip that hope away the moment she's embraced the idea. She's left with her original decision, but it no longer feels satisfying to me (or, apparently, to Cammie from the way she reacts). This wasn't major enough to make me not recommend the book, but I had to wonder why the author decided to turn a satisfying ending into a weaker one.

There is romance and kissing, but no sex or cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as a "good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
I suppose a lot of teenage girls feel invisible sometimes, like they just disappear. Well, that's me--Cammie the Chameleon. But I'm luckier than most because, at my school, that's considered cool.

I go to a school for spies.

Of course, technically, the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is a school for geniuses--not spies--and we're free to pursue any career that befits our exceptional educations. But when a school tells you that, and then teaches you things like advanced encryption and fourteen different languages, it's kind of like big tobacco telling kids not to smoke; so all of us Gallagher Girls know lip service when we hear it. Even my mom rolls her eyes but doesn't correct me when I call it spy school, and she's the headmistress. Of course, she's also a retired CIA operative, and it was her idea for me to write this, my first Covert Operations Report, to summarize what happened last semester.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stand-In Groom by Kaye Dacus

Stand-In Groom

Stand-In Groom
by Kaye Dacus

Trade Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Publishing
First Released: 2008

Author Website

Source: Netgalley, online ARC from publisher

Back Cover Blurb:
When wedding planner Anne Hawthorne meets George Laurence, she thinks she's found the man of her dreams. But when he turns out to be a client, her "dream" quickly turns into a nightmare. Will Anne risk her heart and her career on this engaging Englishman?

George came to Louisiana to plan his employer's wedding and pose as the groom. But how can he feign affection for a supposed fiance when he's so achingly attracted to the wedding planner? And what will happen when Anne discovers his role has been Stand-In Groom only? Will she ever trust George again? Can God help these two believers find a happy ending?

This Christian romance is a well-written, thoroughly enjoyable read. The pacing was excellent and kept me wanting to know what came next. I liked how the two main characters truly strove to live out their high ideals in less than ideal circumstances. While neither main character was perfect, they were very clearly perfect for each other.

The first part of the book was the typical "they'd get together if they just talked out their misunderstandings," but the reason they couldn't clear up the misunderstanding was a very good one. The second part of the book was devoted to after the misunderstanding was cleared up. The two of them get to know and start to trust each other while learning to forgive those who hurt them in past relationships. Overall, the story was very satisfying.

Both main characters are Christians and their faith plays a lot more vital role in their lives than is typical in many Christian romance books. This is a book that should please Christian romance devotes, but probably wouldn't interest many non-Christians.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.

Anne Hawthorne left a voice-mail message for her blind date, explaining her tardiness, then crossed her office to the gilt-framed mirror that reflected the view of Town Square through the front windows. At a buzzing jolt against her wait, she flinched, smearing her lipstick.


The vibrating cellular phone chimed out the wedding march. A client. She reached for a tissue to repair her mouth while flipping the phone open with her left hand. "Happy Endings, Inc. This is Anne Hawthorne."

"I can't do it! I can't marry him!" Third call today.

Why had she agreed to be set up on a date the Thursday of a wedding week? If it were just the regular weekly dinner with her cousins, she could skip out and get some work done. "Calm down," she said to her client. "Take a deep breath. And another. Let it out slowly. Now, tell me what happened."

Fifteen minutes later, still on the phone, she pulled her dark green Chrysler Sebring convertible into a packing space in front of Palermo's Italian Grill. She sat in the car a few minutes--air conditioner running full blast--and listened to the rest of her client's story.

When the girl paused to breathe, Anne leaped at her chance. "I completely understand your concern. But, sweetie, you have to remember most men aren't interested in the minute details of a weeding. Just because he doesn't care if the roses are white variegated with pink or solid pink, don't take that to mean he doesn't love you anymore. White ones do you like the best?"

"The variegated roses," the bride-to-be sniffled into the phone.

Anne turned off the engine and got out of the car. The heat and humidity typical for the firs day of June in central Louisiana wrapped her in a sweaty embrace. "Then get the flowers you like. He will be happy because you're happy. Do you want me to call the florist in the morning?" One more change the day before the wedding. Saturday couldn't come fast enough.

"Do you mind?"

"That's what I'm here for." She opened her planner and made a note at the top of the two-page spread for tomorrow. "Feeling better?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Miss Anne. I've got to call Jared and apologize."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Review sites

For those interested, here is a list of other sites that review science-fiction and fantasy novels:

A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Barbara Martin
Bibliophile Stalker
Blood of the Muse
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheryl's Musings
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
The Galaxy Express
Genre Reviews
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
Highlander's Book Reviews
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
Monster Librarian
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Post-Weird Thoughts
Reading the Leaves
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Sporadic Book Reviews
Temple Library Reviews
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag

Foreign Language (other than English)

Cititor SF [Romanian, but with English Translation] [French]

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton

I is for Innocent

I is for Innocent
by Sue Grafton

Mass Market Paperback: 329 pages
Publisher: Fawcett Crest
First Released: 1992

Source: Bought from library book sale

Back Cover Blurb:
Since she was fired by California Fidelity Insurance, Kinsey Millhone has lost her usual swagger. And her new case is no confidence builder. Attorney Lonnie Kingman is going to court on a civil suit in three weeks when his P.I. drops dead of a heart attack. With the statue of limitations running out, Kinsey has to tie up the loose ends of a murder investigation. The victim, an affluent artist named Isabelle Barney, had been shot with a .38; her husband, David Barney, was tried and acquitted of the murder. Now her ex-husband is suing Barney for Isabelle's estate, claiming the jury made a big mistake.

Thins get complicated when Barney gets to Kinsey, insisting he's innocent. Everything he says checks out. But if David Barney is innocent, who's guilty? In trying to learn who's been getting away with murder, Kinsey may be courting her own...

This is a "hard-boiled PI" detective mystery. The focus is mainly on solving the mystery, and the answer to the mystery was clever.

Kinsey is the point-of-view character. She has a temper that sometimes gets her into trouble, a penchant for not playing by the rules, and a sometimes crude vocabulary. In this novel, she does pretty much stick to doing things by the book, doesn't curse, and don't jump in bed with anyone, but I get the feeling she might do any of those things in the other books.

While the characters were all interesting, I didn't particularly like any of them. I didn't mind spending a lot of time in Kinsey's head, but she also wasn't the type of character that I wished was a real person I could be best buddies with. Other readers might really bond with Kinsey, though.

The pacing and the suspense were good. The world-building was very good (and it's clear the author really knows the streets in that city). Overall, I'm not sure I would call this novel 'clean,' but it was good fun.

Excerpt: Chapter One
I feel compelled to report that at the moment of death, my entire life did not pass before my eyes in a flash. There was no beckoning white light at the end of a tunnel, no warm fuzzy feeling that my long-departed loved one were waiting on The Other Side. What I experienced was a little voice piping up in an outraged tone, "Oh, come on. You're not serious. This is really it?" Mostly, I regretted I hadn't tidied my chest of drawers the night before as I'd planned. It's painful to realize that those who mourn your untimely demise will also carry with them the indelible image of all your tatty underpants. You might question the validity of the observation since it's obvious I didn't die when I thought I would, but let's face it, life is trivial, and my guess is that dying imparts very little wisdom to those in process.

My name is Kinsey Millhone. I'm a licensed private investigator operating out of Santa Teresa, which is ninety-five miles north of Los Angeles. For the past seven years, I'd been running my own small agency adjacent to the home offices of California Fidelity Insurance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Lacemaker and the Princess

The Lacemaker and the Princess
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Hardback: 199 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Eleven-year-old Isabelle is a lacemaker in the town of Versailles. One day as she delivers lace to the palace, she is almost trampled by a crowd of courtiers--only to be rescued by Marie Antoinette. Before Isabelle can believe it, she has a new job--companion to the queen's daughter. Isabelle is given a fashionable name, fashionable dresses--a new identity. At home she plies her needle under her grandmother's disapproving eye. At the palace she is playmate to a princess.

Thrown into a world of luxury, Isabelle is living a fairy-tale life. But this facade begins to crumble when rumors of starvation in the countryside lead to whispers of revolution. How can Isabelle reconcile the ugly things she hears in the town with the kind family she knows in the palace? And which side is she truly on?

Inspired by an actual friendship between the French princess and a commoner who became her companion, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley offers a vivid portrait of life inside the palace of Versailles--and a touching tale of two friends divided by class and the hunger for equality and freedom that fueled the French Revolution.

This novel is a historical set France starting in 1788. Details of the time period are skillfully woven into the story, and the problems Isabelle faces comes from the problems of the period. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historicals and is interested in the period.

The pacing is very good, and the characters were engaging and interesting. There was no romance (so no sex or kissing), and I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
When the Princess of Lamballe's lace was ready, Grand-mère decided that I should deliver it. Not because I was responsible--I was not, as she often reminded me. Not because she trusted me--she did not, as I well knew. It was because I was worthless, because Grand-mère had been more than usually unhappy about the lace I'd made the previous day, and because one of the very minor nobles had ordered ten yards of lace--a vast amount--that was to be picked up today, and it wasn't finished. "Stop for George. He'll point you to Her Majesty's rooms," Grand-mère said, stuffing me roughly into my one real dress. "He'll see you don't dawdle, or lose the lace."

George was my older brother. He worked in the stables at the palace of Versailles, caring for the Marquis de Lafayette's carriage horses. Our father had also been a servant of the Marquis. Papa was dead; I never knew him.

"Heaven forbid, lose the lace," murmured Maman, sitting up in her bed in the corner of the room, and crossing herself. Grand-mère was large and fat and mean; Maman was small and crippled and sad. "Take care, Isabelle, will you?" She glanced at Grand-mère. "Perhaps--"

"I don't have a moment to spare, not one moment, not with us so behind," Grand-mère said. She looked at Maman. She did not say it was Maman's fault we were behind with our lacemaking, but she thought it, and Maman and I both knew she was thinking it. Some days Maman's knees and hands hurt so bad that she had to drink laudanum before she could sleep. The medicine made her groggy all the next day, and it made her hands shake, too, which was not good in a lacemaker.

Grand-mère thought that Maman only pretended to be in pain, despite the evidence of her swollen fingers and knees. Grand-mère never believed in any pain she didn't feel herself.

Grand-mère was an evil old goat. She made our house a misery.

Now she poked me with Maman's cane. "Don't you think for a moment that you're off the hook. If it weren't for your shoddy work yesterday, we wouldn't be in such a rush."

This was a lie. The lace I'd ruined yesterday--and I had made a mess of it, the pattern was complicated and I'd gotten confused--was not the lace that was supposed to be ready today. I wasn't trusted to make important lace. But I knew better than to contradict Grand-mère.

"It won't take her long," Maman said. "You, Isabelle, remember you have work waiting when you get home."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In the Shadow of the Sun King by Golden Keyes Parsons

In the Shadow of the Sun King

In the Shadow of the Sun King
by Golden Keyes Parsons

Trade Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2008

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Blurb:
Madeleine's shared history with the king holds the key to her family's life...or death.

Seventeenth century France is an unsafe time to be a Huguenot. By order of King Louis XIV, all French Protestants must immediately convert or face imprisonment--or death. The king's dragoons ferret out the nonconformists, pillaging villages and destroying homesteads.

When the king's soldiers descend on the Clavell estate, the family's fate hangs in the balance. Quickly, quietly, they send their two sons into hiding, trusting that the young age of their daughter will guarantee her protection. But the dragoons will not be dissuaded; they hold the manor hostage looking for clues of their guilt or innocence. However, Madeleine Clavell, the lady of the manor, holds a secret--one possible chance to save the family. She and the king share a past.

Once a beautiful young lady in the French court whom Louis loved, Madeleine travels to Versailles to plead for mercy from the fickle king, hoping to regain his favor and save her family. It's a gamble, but she is left with no other choice. Madeleine soon faces an agonizing decision--one that changes her family forever.

This novel is a historical fiction, but I'm also listing it under romance since that plays a major role in the story. The world-building was very good and vividly paints a picture of what life was like at the time. The pacing is excellent, and the story is suspenseful--or, at least, should be considering what's happening.

The book, especially after page 92, was well-written. Before that point, the adults were very flat and predictable even if the events happening to them were exciting. It was the Feisty Heroine battling against the Villainous Military Commander and the other adults stayed vaguely in background. However, the parts about the children in Jean's point of view were vivid and highly suspenseful. After page 92, the adults stopped playing such cliche roles and filled out into interesting characters.

My main problem with the story is that I didn't like our main character and so didn't care if disaster befell her. Madeleine's main talents are to run headlong into trouble and then feel sorry for herself over the bad results of those actions. Worse, she never learns from her mistakes to the point of changing her ways. Her loyalty to her family and faithfulness to her husband are admirable, but she even flirts with forsaking those qualities. Though she seems to be held in high regard for her faith, her actions show little real trust in her God. Frankly, I can't understand why three men declare their undying love for the spoiled brat.

I also initially didn't like the husband. He's a wimp in the beginning (though he sure pays for it later and comes out a better man for it). He knew that letting Madeleine go to court would put his family in danger if she refused to be the king's mistress (and she swore she wouldn't do that), yet he gives in to her demands to go because he 'can never stop her once she sets her mind to do something.' Yet the servants would have willingly stopped her from going at his slightest command. Obviously, he didn't care about his family enough to stand up to her foolish behavior.

On the other hand, I liked almost all the other adults (including all but the cliche bad guy) and all of the children. I kept reading because I did care what became of them.

Overall, it was worth reading even though the main character irritated me. If you're a fan of feisty heroines, you'll probably even enjoy her. There were no explicit sex scenes or cussing. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
Madeleine paused at the well, her bucket of freshly picked spring flowers teetering on the edge of the stone rim. Barking dogs intruded upon the late afternoon stillness, and birds rose from the trees into the sky. Then she heard the pounding hooves.

The bucket dropped from her grasp and clattered to the cobblestone walkway, scattering the colorful blossoms. She lifted her skirt and ran from the side of the manor toward the entrance of the estate, dispersing quacking ducks and geese as she went. She looked down the road, through the canopy of arching trees, then heard Francois before she saw him.

Her husband had ridden into Grenoble earlier that morning to oversee the sale of two of their pedigree horses. Now he galloped into view. What could be wrong? His dark hair flew around his shoulders from beneath his hat. His eyes were wild with terror.

"Dragoons! S-saw them from the ridge." He reined in his horse, and chips of dirt and rocks showered in every direction, pelting Madeleine in the face. He jumped to the ground, and his breath came in gulps. "Hurry, they're just a few minutes behind me. Where's Jean? We must get the boys to the cave at once."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Senrid by Sherwood Smith


by Sherwood Smith

Trade Paperback: 446 pages
Publisher: YA Angst
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Teen-aged king Leander Tlennen-Hess has barely ruled a year when he and his step-sister Kitty (or Princess Kyale, as she wishes to be known) are surprised by two visitors. The first is an adventure-loving girl, Faline, who helps Leander defend his tiny kingdom from invasion by the menacing warrior kingdom Marloven Hess, using only imagination and a bit of magic. The second visitor is a nice, friendly boy... who asks too many questions about the recent defeat of those evil Marlovens.

The nice, friendly visitor turns out to be Senrid, king of Marloven Hess.

But Senrid is king in name only. His uncle, the regent, holds power and Senrid must prove himself to be sufficiently strong by abducting for execution the two kids who thwarted the invasion.

The only way to save them is to enter the stronghold of the enemy, in flimsy disguise...

This book really is a fantasy book written for younger teenagers. The kid heroes don't seem to think to highly of adults. ;) If you haven't read Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel book, read that before reading this one.

This book is a lot less polished than Crown Duel (for good reason). While the characters and adventures are interesting, I really only found them so interesting because I wanted to read more adventures set in the same world as Crown Duel.

World-building is one of Sherwood Smith's strong points, but the world building in this book is only "good." The pacing is also good. The characters are engaging and the adventures interesting, but somehow the threat never really felt real--I never worried the 'good' characters would die or felt they really were hurt, even though they got into some pretty dangerous positions.

The was no romance and, while there was a lot of inventive name-calling, there was no cussing. I'll also mention that a lot of the names were very long and sometimes I couldn't even figure out how to pronounce them. If you like Sherwood Smith's other books, certainly give this one a try. Overall, it was a "good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
In a tiny, rural kingdom called Vasande Leror, the new ruler and his stepsister were busy with books. The castle where they lived was small, built stolidly of gray, unadorned rock, and mostly empty. The ruler, Leander Tlennen-Hess, sat in his library working hard at magic studies; down the hall in her suite of rooms, Princess Kyale Marlonen lay curled up on a couch reading, two cats nestled against her and one stretched along the headrest. Kyale's mind galloped through the pages of historical record written by a long-ago princess not much older than she, whose life had been fraught with danger.

She'd sunk so deeply into the past that she failed to see the face peering in at her through the window.

Tap! Tap! Tap! came the sound of knuckles on glass.

Kyale jerked her attention from the book to the window, where a round, freckled face peered in.

"Yagh!" Kyale shrieked, flinging up her hands , and the book sprang into the air.

So did the cats. Before the ancient book (and the three cats) hit the rug Kyale had already dashed out the door. She ran straight to Leander's study.

He looked up, hating to be distracted; when he saw his stepsister's frightened face, he vaguely remembered hearing a scream.

Wondering if the horrible ex-queen Mara Jinea had come back from Norsunder to threaten them again, he set down his book. "Kitty? What is it?"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Skies Over Sweetwater by Julia Moberg

Skies Over Sweetwater

Skies Over Sweetwater
by Julia Moberg

Trade Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Keene Publishing
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Bernadette Thompson (Byrd to her friends) is 18, the year is 1944, and she is about to fulfill her life-long dream: to become an Air Force pilot. Leaving her poverty-stricken Iowa home, Byrd boards a train in route to Sweetwater, Texas—home of Avenger Field—where the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) training camp teaches women how to fly bombers, pursuits, trainers, and utility planes. At camp, Byrd meets Cornelia the rich girl, Sadie the college girl, and Opal the city girl. Together they struggle to master not only handling a plane, but some of life’s most important challenges.

The WASP were the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. Still in their teens, these courageous pioneers, heroes in their own right, left their homes to serve their country doing what they loved to do—fly! Their story inspires us all to follow our dreams and find our own place in the world through courage, integrity, and passion. Readers of all ages will love the WASP’s story of achievement, friendship, and patriotism.

This book is a historical fiction book aimed at teenagers. I read this book more to learn about the WASP program than for the story. Sometimes, I felt like the author had made a list of information she wanted to include and forced the story to fit around that list, but I expect it wasn't 'forced' enough to bother most readers.

The information about the planes was detailed and appeared to be well-researched, and the WASP program information was accurate. However, some of the things in the story seemed questionable. For example, Byrdie remembers how a rattlesnake once crawled through the water pipes and out the water faucet in the wash room of her house. But water pipes are full of water, not air, and the snake wouldn't have been able to get past the valves. Then there's the farmer who apparently has chickens (since he mentions having chicken feed) but who used his ration stamps to buy eggs. But why buy eggs when presumably he can get them from his own hens?

Also, none of the girls (except Byrdie) has any mechanical malfunctions on their planes, but Byrdie has several mechanical failures. I kept wondering why the instructors never once suspected sabotage. Finally, Byrdie feels the wind caress her face when she's in a closed cockpit, which was confusing since I thought you wouldn't be able to.

I also want to warn readers that the book was written in present tense, which I found very distracting. (People don't tell each other stories or even talk in present tense, so it sounds unnatural to me.)

Despite all this, the story was engaging and the characters were likable. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to the characters. There was no sex, no profanity, and the lessons learned were good ones. I'd rate this book as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
The train pulls up to the station, right on time. The conductor helps lug my trunk up the stairs and into my compartment. I sit down on the gorgeous plush red velvet bench where I will be spending the next 12 hours. I run my fingers over it, realizing how long it has been since I felt anything so wonderful.

Outside the window the Iowa sun is starting to come up all purple and orange over the horizon. I think about Mom and my sister, Charlotte, and I wonder if they are awake yet and if they've noticed I'm gone. And then I think about Pa, and it hurts, so I open my trunk and find my favorite and only book I own, West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. I get lost reading about her adventures flying her plane across the Atlantic. Then, without realizing it, I am asleep.

I can never sleep long because the fire comes. When I doze off, my eyes fill up with orange and red. They burn, and someone is always screaming my name, and my head feels like it's going to explode. Right before it does, I wake up.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Eye of Jade by Daine Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade

The Eye of Jade
by Daine Wei Liang

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
"Having her own detective agency would give her the independence she had always longed for. It would also give her the chance to show those people who shunned her that she could be successful. People were getting rich. They owned property, money, business, and cars. With new freedom and opportunities came new crimes. There would be much that she could do."

Present day, Beijing. Mei Wang is a modern, independent woman. She has her own apartment. She owns a car. She has her own business with that most modern of commodities--a male secretary. Her short career with China's prestigious Ministry for Public Security has given her intimate insight into the complicated and arbitrary world of Beijing's law enforcement. But it is her intuition, curiosity, and her uncanny knack for listening to things said--and unsaid--that make Mei Beijing's first successful female private investigator.

Mei is no stranger to the dark side of China. She was six years old when she last saw her father behind the wire fence of one of Mao's remote labor camps. Perhaps as a result, Mei eschews the power plays and cultural mores--guanxi--her sister and mother live by...for better and for worse.

Mei's family friend "Uncle" Chen hires her to find a Han dynasty jade of great value: he believes the piece was looted from the Luoyang Museum during the Cultural Revolution--when the Red Guards swarmed the streets, destroying so many traces of the past--and that it's currently for sale on the black market. The hunt for the eye of jade leads Mei through banquet halls and back alleys, seedy gambling dens and cheap noodle bars near the Forbidden City. Given the jade's provenance and its journey, Mei knows to treat the investigation as a most delicate matter; she cannot know, however, that this case will force her to delve not only into China's brutal history, but also into her family's dark secrets and into her own tragic separation from the man she loved in equal parts.

The first novel in an exhilarating new detective series, The Eye of Jade is both a thrilling mystery and a sensual and fascinating journey through modern China.

This book is more of an entertaining way to learn about a culture than a mystery book. If you liked "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," then you'll probably enjoy this story. The first chapters of the book were full of flashbacks, and the whole story was full of strange metaphors, but the information about modern China was fascinating. The mystery itself was decent but was never fully the focus of the book. As in, don't buy this book solely because you want to read a mystery because you'll be frustrated.

The characters were interesting, and the world-building was thorough. There were no explicit sex scenes or noticeable cussing. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
In the corner of an office in an old-fashioned building in Beijing's Chongyang District, the fan was humming loudly, like an elderly man angry at his own impotence. Mei and Mr. Shao sat across a desk from each other. Both were perspiring heavily. Outside, the sun shone, baking the air into a solid block of heat.

Mr. Shao wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He had refused to remove his suit jacket. "Money's not a problem." He cleared his throat. "But you must get on it right away."

"I'm working on other cases at the moment."

"Do you want me to pay extra, is that it? You want a deposit? I can give you one thousand yuan right now." Mr. Shao reached for his wallet. "They come up with the fakes faster than I can produce the real thing, and they sell them at under half my price. I've spent ten years building up my name, ten years of blood and sweat. But I don't want you talking to your old friends at the Ministry, you understand? I want no police in this."

"You are not doing anything illegal, are you?" Mei wondered why he was so keen to pay her a deposit. That was most unusual, especially for a businessman as shrewd as Mr. Shao.

"Please, Miss Wang. What's legal and what's not these days? You know what people say: 'The Party has strategies, and the people have counterstrategies.'" Mr. Shao stared at Mei with his narrow eyes. "Chinese medicine is like magic. Regulations are for products that don't work. Mine cure. That's why people buy them."

He gave a small laugh. It didn't ease the tension. Mei couldn't decide whether he was a clever businessman or a crook.

"I don't like the police--no offense, Miss Wang, I know you used to be one of them. When I started out, I sold herbs on the street. The police were always on my tail, confiscating my goods, taking me into the station as if I were a criminal. Comrade Deng Xiaoping said Ge Ti Hu--that individual traders were contributors to building socialism. But did the police care for what he said? They're muddy eggs. Now things are better. I've done well, and people look up to me. But if you ask me, the police haven't changed. When you need protection, they can't help you. I asked them to investigate the counterfeits. Do you know what they told me? They said they don't do that kind of work. But whenever there is a policy change, an inspection, or a crackdown, you can bet they'll jump on me like hungry dogs."

"Whether you like the police or not, we must play by the book," Mei said, though she knew her voice was less convincing than her words. Private detectives were banned in China. Mei, like others in the business, had resorted to the counter-strategy of registering her agency as an information consultancy.

"Of course," agreed Mr. Shao. A smile as wide as the ocean filled his face.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

River Secrets by Shannon Hale

River Secrets

River Secrets
by Shannon Hale

Trade Paperback: 290 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2006

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Razo has never been anything but ordinary. He's not very fast or tall or strong, so when he's invited to join an elite mission escorting the ambassador into Tira, Bayern's great enemy, he's sure it's only out of pity. But as Razo finds potential allies among the Tiran, including the beautiful Lady Dasha, he realizes it may be up to him to stop a murderer and get the Bayern army safely home again.

This book is a "heroic fantasy" book and is the sequel to "The Goose Girl" and "Enna Burning." The book is more light-hearted than Shannon Hale's the previous books, but that's because this book's main character is a bit of a scamp.

The pacing and world-building were very good. The characters were engaging and changed realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There was no sex, and I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Except: Chapter One
Razo hopped up and down, but he could see only backs of heads. Soldiers and courtiers lined the grand hall, craned their necks, stood on toes. And everyone was taller than him.

"That's just perfect," Razo muttered.

Rumors had been buzzing all week that something weighty would be announced today, and now here he was without a hope of a decent view. If only he were in the Forest and could just climb a tree.

He looked up. Then again...

Razo squeezed to the outer wall of the chamber and leaped at a tapestry, just catching the lower fringe. A brief sound of tearing, quick as the squeak of a mouse in a trap, and he found himself dangling above a hundred heads, waiting for a terrifying rip to send him down. The tapestry shivered, then held, so Razo crossed his eyes once for luck and climbed up.

He pushed his feet against the wall and sprang onto the decorative shelving. At last he had an agreeable view of his friends Isi and Geric, Bayern's queen and king, seated on a dais three steps below their thrones. Beside them were the white-robed emissaries from Tira and a handful of Tiran soldiers who, Razo imagined, had been handpicked for looking brutish and menacing.

The yellow-haired Tiran woman was speaking. "...years of animosity cannot be quickly forgotten, yet we see the benefit of forming an acquaintance with Bayern as we have not for many hundreds of years."

"That is our wish as well," said Geric, "and so we propose an exchange of ambassadors. This spring, we'll send one of our own south to live among the Tiran people in the capital city of Ingridan."

"By the authority of the people of Tira, our assembly, and our prince," said the Tiran woman, "we accept Bayern's invitation and likewise will send our ambassador to live in your capital."

The crowd creaked with astonished silence. One lean soldier glared at Geric and thumbed the hilt of his sword.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

Auralia's Colors

Auralia's Colors
by Jeffrey Overstreet

Trade Paperback: 334 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover:
The back cover doesn't do a good job describing the story, so here's my description of the book's plot:

By royal proclamation, only royalty and those who earn their favor can wear bright colors. The lowly wear dull browns and grays. Criminals are forced to live outside of the protection of the city walls and gather food for the city.

Auralia is a mysterious orphan raised outside the walls. She can see the vivid colors in nature and weave them into brilliant clothing that, by law, only the king and queen may wear. She gives her colors as gifts to criminals and children.

She is summoned before the king and brings her most stunning creation: a cloak containing all the colors of the land. It shines with a light that allows people to see again and remember who they are instead of who they're pretending to be to earn royal favor.

The king and his advisers are furious at her defiance of the law, but the prince and others are inspired to return colors to everyone. But will they be in time to save Auralia from the king?

This story is a fantasy, but it is local in scale and the main characters aren't fighters. I suppose it might be called a magic fantasy, but Auralia's gift for colors isn't really magic. She doesn't make the colors shine or heal.

My main problem with the book is the first 77 pages. First, we jump all over in time with numerous flashbacks. Second, the point-of-view is constantly sliding from one person to the next in a very distracting way, but also rarely going very deeply into any one person's head. There is very little dialogue and what little action occurs is often repetitious: we're told in a distant viewpoint what happens, then we jump back and replay the scene with dialogue and various point-of-view characters. I couldn't bond with any character because there were so many of them being introduced (with few of them reappearing during the first 50 pages), and Auralia wasn't even one of the point-of-view characters.

However, after page 77, the time- and head-jumping halts, Auralia becomes the main point-of-view character, and the reader is allowed more fully into the point-of-view characters' heads. The pacing became more balanced at this point, and book was pretty enjoyable.

Another problem I had, though, was that Auralia was at least 15 years old and was probably 16. However, she's repeatedly described like a young child (e.g. she has tiny arms and hands). People keep saying, "But she's just a child!" and reacting to her like she was about 8 years old. In fact, she often acts like a 8 to 12-year-old (depending on the scene).

The world-building in the book was good, but the author frequently invented names for things with little to no concrete description attached. It was often difficult for me to visualize what a new thing or creature was like. The characters were interesting and varied, but only one character really changed much during the book.

There was no sex or cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, when she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.

She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river's language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky--roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.

Those fevered moments of his discovery burnt into the old man's memory. In the years that followed, he would hold and turn them in his mind the way an explorer ponders relics he has found in the midst of ruin. But the mystery remained stubbornly opaque. No matter how often he exaggerated the story to impress his fireside listeners--"I dove into that ragin' river and caught her by the toe!" "I fought off that hungry river wyrm with my picker-staff just in time!"--he found no clue to her origins, no answers to questions of why and how.

The Gatherers, House Abascar, the Expanse--the whole world might have been different had he left her there with riverwater running from her hair. "The River Girl"--that was what the Gatherers came to call her until she grew old enough to set them straight. Without the River Girl, the four houses of the Expanse might have perished in their troubles. But then again, some say that without the River Girl those troubles might never have come at all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Moment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon

Moment of Truth in Iraq

Moment of Truth in Iraq
by Michael Yon

Hardback: 3227 pages
Publisher: Richard Vigilante Books
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Never underestimate the American soldier.

That’s the moral of former Green Beret Michael Yon’s brilliant battle-by-battle, block-by-block tale of how America’s new ‘greatest generation’ is turning defeat and disaster into victory and hope in Iraq

The American soldier is the reason General David Petraeus’s brilliant strategy of moving our soldiers off isolated bases and out among the Iraqi people is working. Working to find and kill terrorists, reclaim neighborhoods, and help lead Iraq to democracy.

Iraqis respect strength. They saw that American soldiers are “great-hearted warriors” who rejoice in killing the Al Qaeda terror gangs that took over whole cities, “raped too many women and boys, cut off too many heads, brought drugs into too many neighborhoods.”

But Iraqis also discovered that these great warriors are even happier helping rebuild a clinic or a school or a neighborhood. They learned from the American soldier that the most dangerous man in the world, could be the best man too.

Moment of Truth in Iraq is packed with Yon’s trademark exciting and often heart-rending tales from the battlefield:

-The American commander fed up with phony Al Qaeda ‘documentaries’ that showed terrorists shooting at bombed out American vehicles as if they had beaten us in open battle. The commander and his men staged the “bombing” of a broken down truck. The when the terrorists came to put on their act Navy SEAL snipers killed every one.

-Follow to the exploits of the great “Deuce Four” battalion that became the center of a “warrior cult” dreaded by terrorists and revered by Iraqis.

-Think Iraqi soldiers can’t fight? Read the story of an elite Iraqi SWAT team taking down a terror cell for the murder of four American soldiers and a brave Iraqi guide.

-Think Americans are occupiers, not liberators, of Iraq? Tell that to the wounded Iraqi interpreter, who, convinced he was about to die, begged his U.S. commander to have his heart cut out and buried in America.

-Learn why so many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers.

-Why our greatest ally in this war is “a citizen with a cell phone who believes the future belongs to the people killing the terrorists.”

Brutalized by Saddam for decades, Iraqis hungered for strength entwined with justice and tempered by mercy. The American soldier delivered.

We are winning the war in Iraq, not primarily with our overwhelming technology, not with shock and awe destruction, but with the even more powerful force of American values-with the courage and leadership, strength and compassion of soldiers who know both how to kill the bad guy and comfort the child.

Here is the true, untold story of the American soldier and the courage and values that are bringing victory for America-and Iraq.

I don't normally review non-fiction books, but this is such an important book that I felt like I needed to get the word out about it. Don't let the price of the book stop you, either! (The cheapest place I've seen it so far is from the publisher.)

Michael Yon has been covering the fighting in Iraq for years and has been all over that country. He has a solid and unique overview of what has and has not worked in Iraq.

Michael Yon doesn't pander to sides but searches for the truth. He's the first to say we screwed up in some major ways when he was first over there, but now he reveals what we're doing now that's really working and why it's working. Yes, we really are winning now, and he's a bit baffled as to why people in America don't believe it (which is probably why he wrote a book about it).

The thing is, he also made it clear that if we drop the ball now on our winning strategy, we could lose all the progress we've made and things could become worse off than before. So, you want to prevent our soldiers from dying needlessly? Then read this book.

The book is vividly written. It's interesting to read and easy to follow. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Baqubah, Iraq, June 19, 2007

Thoughts flow on the eve of a great battle. By the time you read these words, we will be in combat. Few ears have heard even rumors of this battle, and fewer still are the eyes that will see its full scope. Even now--for the battle has already begun for some--little news of it reaches home. I have known of the plans for a month, but have kept silent.

This campaign, a series of carefully orchestrated battalion- and brigade-sized operations, is collectively the largest battle since "major hostilities" ended more than four years ago. Even the media here on the ground do not seem to have sensed its scale.

Al Qaeda and associates had little or no presence in Iraq before the current war. But we made huge mistakes early on and now we pump blood and gold into the desert to pay for those blunders. We failed to secure the streets and we sowed doubt and mistrust. We disbanded the government and the army and we created a vacuum. We tolerated corruption and ineptitude and mostly local talent filled the ranks of an insurgency. But when we flattened parts of Fallujah not once but twice in response to the murders of four of our people, we helped create a spectacle of injustice and chaos. Al Qaeda took entree while militias and insurgency groups began to thrive. The magnitude of true injustices was magnified line by line, hair by hair, by a frenzied media. But it wasn't the media's fault; the media did not flatten Fallujah or rape and torture prisoners. We did that all by ourselves.

We walked into a dry, cracked land, along the two arteries of Mesopotamia that have long pulsed water and blood into the sea. In a place where everything that is not desert is tinder; sparks make fire.

When we devastated Fallujah, al Qaeda grew like a tumor. Before al Qaeda we faced a bewildering complex of insurgent groups with conflicting ideologies and goals, along with opportunistic thugs. The amalgam of men (and women) with guns was so diverse and the affiliations so dynamic that it was hard to track who was responsible for what atrocity. Each attack spawned reprisals that demanded yet another round of revenge. Al Qaeda had been trying to ignite a civil war here for several years; chaos and brutality would become its fuel.

Today al Qaeda is strong, but their welcome grows cold. The Coalition was not alone in failing to keep its promises. Iraqis love to say "America put a man on the moon but cannot turn on our lights," and the implication was we really didn't care. In so many ways we lost the moral high ground.

But then al Qaeda raped too many women and boys, cut off too many heads, and brought drugs into too many neighborhoods. And they haven't even tried to get the power going, or keep the markets open, or build schools, or playground, or clinics for the children. Instead, as we ineptly tried to rebuild, they destroyed. They destroyed and murdered Iraqis who dared to work in such places or patronize them. And not only schools and clinics: they brought murder to mosques and churches too.

Finally, those few who were paying close attention could feel it. A barely perceptible change in the atmosphere that signals big change could come. But to make the change we had to change. Remarkably we did. But that story is for later.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fireproof by Eric Wilson


by Eric Wilson

Trade Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Inside burning buildings, Captain Caleb Holt lives by the firefighter's adage: "Never leave your partner." Yet at home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules.

Growing up, his wife Catherine always dreamed of marrying a loving, brave firefighter...just like her father. Now, after seven years of marriage, she wonders when she stopped being "good enough."

Countless arguments and anger have them wanting to move on. As they prepare for divorce, Caleb's father challenges him to commit to a 40-day experiment: "The Love Dare." Wondering if it's even worth the effort, Caleb agrees, for his father's sake more than for his marriage.

Surprised by what he discovers about the meaning of love, Caleb realizes that his wife and marriage are worth fighting for. His job is to rescue others. Now Captain Holt is ready to face his toughest job ever...rescuing his wife's heart.

This book is a "Christian Romance" novel, though it's not typical of the category. The romance is portrayed accurate to real life and is mainly from the male point-of-view. I think men would find the book as interesting as women would.

The book isn't terribly preachy and is more a "this character happens to become a Christian" than a "listen up, readers--if you aren't Christian, you ought to be and here's how!" Unless you are vehemently anti-Christian, the Christian content probably won't annoy you.

Because the novel is based on a movie, the novel isn't as deep as it could be. However, it's a lot better than I expected. The pacing was very good. The world-building (of the fire house and hospital) was good. The main characters were interesting. They acted and changed in realistic ways. This book is about loving when the other person rejects you and acknowledges that repairing a broken marriage isn't an easy deal.

There was no cursing that I noticed it. There is kissing and some off-screen sex between husband and wife at the end. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter Two

[Chapter One is more of a prologue, so I'm skipping it.]

Caleb Holt, rookie and recent hero, had been given orders to find the hose stretcher. What was a hose stretcher, though? He searched the fire engine high and low for the seemingly non-existent object, ducking his head into compartments and running his hand along every inch of the truck.

That's when Catherine Campbell strolled into the bay, the captain's daughter and his pride and joy.

Eighteen. Brunette, with natural highlights.

Catherine wore a summer dress, with a red mini-sweater tied off above her thin hips. The slight curve of her brown eyes was simultaneously alluring and friendly. "You must be Caleb."

"Uh, well..."

"Unless you're going under a different name now," she goaded.

"Caleb. Yeah, that's me."

"Thank you for what you did. Saving my dad like that."

He shrugged that off. "You're Catherine, right?"

"Word spreads fast."

"Your father's proud of you. He has a picture of you in his office, but I never realized that you...Well, now I guess you're just more..."

"More what?"

"Uh, you're older."

She grinned. "Yeah, I wish he'd put up my new picture instead. I was, like, what, fourteen in that one?"

"You looked like you were just a girl."

"Just a girl?"

"Well, you know, not all grown up."

"And now look at me." A smile played over her lips. "All grown up."

Caleb tried not to stare and shout a rousing Amen!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Naming by Alison Croggon

The Naming

The Naming
by Alison Croggon

Trade Paperback: 492 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
First Released: 2002

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true identity and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her mysterious teacher must survive a journey through time and place where the dark forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.

This book is an epic fantasy, the first of a planned quartet. The novel is supposedly a young adult book, but I suspect that adults would be more willing to stick with it to the end. Much of the book is very slow in pace. The middle sections are mainly a travel log describing the places Maerad and Cadvan travel through. The level of detail is much, much more than is needed and only slows already un-tense sections even more.

The author occasionally uses some odd word choices (perhaps because she's Australian), but everything is understandable.

Despite the level of detail, the world-building was only okay because much of the time the main characters are in the wilderness or not interacting with other people. I was left feeling like I didn't know or understand the world very well. Cadvan, the teacher who is supposed to enlighten Maerad (and the reader), keeps putting off his explanations. I'm left knowing a great deal about the landscape, a bunch of intricate but insignificant objects (furniture, etc.), and some ancient history, but very little about the current history and politics which are supposedly driving the character's actions. [Note: Some of this information is included in the 21-page Appendices.]

The characters were not uninteresting, but the reader is kept at a distance from the main characters (and their secrets) until the end. Then, they get interesting! Unfortunately, I'm not willing to slog through the over-descriptions again (since the next book appears to also be mostly a travel log) on the hope the characters will stay interesting.

I also felt betrayed by the last two pages of the book. The book sets itself up as a clear "good v.s. evil" story. Yet at the end, Cadvan (a TruthSeeker who can see when a person is lying and can force a person to say the truth even when they don't remember it themselves) says that truth is relative and can change from person to person. On the final page, Maerad sees a vision that makes her conclude that evil is not only necessary but is beautiful. This goes against everything the author established in the previous 465 pages.

All that said, if you like slow, "fat" books, then you probably will enjoy this book. There was no sex or cussing. The magic in this world is basically normal speech but in a special, true language (which is sometimes written out for the reader and then translated). Overall, I'd say this is "a clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
For almost as long as she could remember, Maerad had been imprisoned behind walls. She was a slave in Gilman's Cot, and hers was the barest of existences: an endless cycle of drudgery and exhaustion and dull fear.

Gilman's Cot was a small mountain hamlet beyond the borders of the wide lands of the Inner Kingdom of Annar. It nestled at the nape of a bleak valley on the eastern side of the mountains of Annova, where the range split briefly and ran out, like two claws, from near the northern end. Its virtue, as far as the Thane Gilman was concerned, was its isolation; here he could be tyrant of his domain, with nothing to check him.

It was a well-defended fortress, though no one came to attack. At the cot's back was the stone cliff of the Outwall, the precipice cutting sheer some thousand feet from the Landrost, the highest peak in that part of the range. Around the cot were walls of roughly dressed stone, rising to a height of thirty feet from a base twenty feet wide. They tapered to four feet at the top, enough room for two men to walk abreast. At the front were stout wooden gates, which eight men or a wagon could enter with ease. The gates were barred at night and most days, except for hunts and when the hillmen came in their big wagons to trade goods, salted meat, cheeses, and dried apples for swords and arrows and buckets and nails.

About a hundred and fifty souls lived there: the Thane Gilman and his wife, who had been beaten to a shadow after bearing him twelve children, of which five still lived, and his henchmen and their women and bastards.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Among the Barons by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Among the Barons

Among the Barons
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Trade Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Aladdin
First Released: 2004

Source: A friend gave the book to me

Back Cover Blurb:
Luke Garner, an illegal third child, spent his first twelve years in hiding. For the past four months Luke has lived among others, using the identity of Lee Grant, at the Hendricks School for Boys. But just as things are finally starting to go right, Lee's little brother Smits arrives at the school and Luke finds himself caught in a tangle of lies that gets more complex with every passing day.

Can Luke trust Smits to keep his secret? And can he trust Smits's menacing bodyguard, Oscar?

I suppose this would qualify as a science fiction middle-grade book. The premise is that, due to famine, the president has become a dictator and has passed a law that couples can only have two children. Luke is a third child and lived most of his life in hiding. Several books back, he was given the identity of a legal boy who died. Now this boy's parents regret giving use of their son's name to another, and Luke is in danger of being forced back into hiding.

The world-building was okay. The pacing was good, and Luke and Smits were interesting. (The other characters were very sketchy, but these two boys were the main characters.) There was no sex, cussing, or magic. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
"Hey, L.! Mr. Hendricks wants to see you!"

Such a summons would have terrified Luke Garner only a few months earlier. When he'd first come to Hendricks School for Boys, the thought of having to talk to any grown-up, let alone the headmaster, would have turned him into a stammering, quaking fool desperately longing for a place to hide.

But that was back in April, and this was August. A lot had happened between April and August.

Now Luke just waved off the rising tide of "ohh's" from his friends in math class.

"What'd you do, L.? Have you been sneaking out to the woods again?" his friend John taunted him.

"Settle down, class," the teacher, Mr. Rees, said mildly. "You may be excused, Mr., uh, Mr..."

Luke didn't wait for Mr. Rees to try to remember his name. Names were slippery things at Hendricks School anyway. Luke, like all his friends, was registered under a different name from what he'd grown up with. So it was always hard to know what to call people.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Thief Taker by T.F. Banks

The Thief Taker

The Thief Taker
by T.F. Banks

Mass Market Paperback: 325 pages
Publisher: Bantam Dell
First Released: 2001

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
June 1815. When Henry Morton is called to the scene at Portman House in Claridge Square, the Bow Street constable finds a man dead in a hackney coach--ostensibly of asphyxiation. He was Halbert Glendinning, a gentleman of unsullied character. Then why was he seen frequenting one of London’s most notorious dens of iniquity? And why has the driver of the coach vanished into the night?

While Sir Nathaniel Conant, the chief magistrate at Number 4 Bow Street, accepts the official verdict of accidental death, Morton is certain that Glendinning was a victim of foul play. With the help of actress Arabella Malibrant, one of London’s most celebrated beauties, he embarks on his own discreet inquiry. And as the upper circles of London society close ranks against him, Morton races to unmask a killer whose motives are as complex and unfathomable as the passions that rule the human heart.

This historical mystery is set in 1815. Henry Morton is a Bow Street Runner (a.k.a. cop) who works with his mistress to solve both a murder and a theft. Most of Morton's problems stem from the "thief taking" system in place at the time, and the world-building of the historical time period is excellent.

The pacing was good, and the characters were interesting. The sex all occured 'off page.' Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One

Morton had all but finished dressing, and was basking in the glow of warmth and well-being, albeit moderated by a few stinging bruises, that followed his remarkable evening at Jackson's [boxing club].

"Mr. Morton...sir?" a voice said breathlessly.

Morton looked up to find a boy, gasping in the doorway as through in the throes of an asthmatical convulsion.

"Henry Morton, yes."

"I've run all the way, sir..." the child managed. "'Tis Mrs. Malinbrant...Asks that you come directly." A few desperate breaths were needed. "I'm to say 'tis most urgent, sir. Most terrible urgent."

Morton tossed aside a towel. "Nothing has befallen Mrs. Malibrant, I hope?"

"Oh, no, Mr. Morton. 'Tis the gentleman, sir. The young gentleman who just arrived at Lord Arthur's." The boy straightened a little and shook his head. "He appears to be dead, sir. Most thoroughly dead."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

King's Property by Morgan Howell

King's Property

Queen of the Orcs: King's Property
by Morgan Howell

Mass Market Paperback: 302 pages
Publisher: Del Rey
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from library sale

Back Cover Blurb:
Born into hardship, Dar learns to rely on herself alone. When her family betrays her, Dar is conscripted into King Kregant's army and his brutal campaign to conquer a neighboring country. Now she is bound as a slave to a dreaded regiment of orcs, creatures legendary for their savagery and battle prowess.

Rather than cower, Dar rises to the challenge. She learns the unique culture and language of the orcs, survives treachery from both allies and enemies, and struggles to understand a mystical gift that brings her dark, prophetic visions. As the war, escalates--amid nightmarish combat and shattering loss--Dar must seize a single chance at freedom.

I guess I'd call this "dark fantasy" since there is little hope throughout the book. It's also not a book I, personally, would give to anyone under 15 years old. The book clearly implies, though never actually states, that Dar was raped repeatedly by her father and both Dar and a young girl come very close to being raped on several occasions. While most of the sex, rape, brutality, and killing occur 'off screen' and none of it is explicit or gratuitous, the horror and danger of her surroundings is nearly unrelenting.

Understandably, Dar doesn't trust men and doesn't really like them. I was a bit turned off by the apparent "all men are scum" message but, near the end, it becomes quite clear that Dar doesn't hate all men--just the ones that really are scum.

That being said, all of the characters were very interesting and realistically drawn. The story was suspenseful, and the world-building was excellent. Overall, I'd call this "a good, clean fun" novel for grown-ups.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Dar walked alone down a mountain path, bent beneath a load of firewood. The trail she followed hugged steep rocky walls that blocked the morning sun, so the air and ground still held the night's chill. Nevertheless, she walked barefoot and wore only a tattered, sleeveless shift with a rag to cushion her shoulders. Dar moved quickly to keep warm, but the sound of a distant horse stopped her short. None of her neighbors owned one, nor did anyone in the tiny village beyond the far ridge. Only strangers rode horses, and strangers often brought trouble.

Dar listened. When the hoofbeats died away, leaving only the sound of wind in bare branches, she continued homeward and arrived at a hollow devoid of trees. Its stony ground had been prepared for spring planting. At the far side of the hollow lay the only building--a rude hut, built of rocks and roofed with turf. The horse was tied nearby. Dar was considering leaving when her father's wife emerged from the low building with a rare smile on her face. The older woman called out. "You have visitors."

The smile heightened Dar's wariness. "What kind of visitors?"

Dar's stepmother didn't respond, except to smile more broadly.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Enna Burning

Enna Burning
by Shannon Hale

Trade Paperback: 317 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
First Released: 2004

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Enna's brother, Leifer, has found the secret to an extraordinary power--to make fire without a spark. It's an ability that could be used for good...if he can control it. But Enna can't decide if it's a power she wants for herself or one that should be extinguished forever. And when their home country of Bayern goes to war, the choice becomes unbearable. Enna never imagined the warm, life-giving energy of a fire could destroy everything she loves, but now she must try to save Bayern and herself before fire consumes her entirely.

This book is a sequel to a "fairy tale re-telling" book, but it isn't based on a fairy tale. The story is a bit darker than "The Goose Girl." Everything feels out-of-control and morally murky. For example, Enna must decide whether she should use her fire-talking to kill enemy soldiers (she decides it's not right or smart to do so but does it anyway because she feels she has to). Though the reasons for her actions were convincing, I wasn't comfortable with how often Enna chose to do what she knew was wrong. (Note that she does do what is right in the end.)

The pacing and world-building were good. The characters were engaging and changed realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There are a few kisses, but no sex. I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Enna let the fire burn out.

She was not used to this duty. For the three years she had lived and worked in the city, the hearth had been the hall mistress's responsibility. And when Enna had returned to the Forest a year ago at the onset of her mother's illness, her mother had continued to tend the fire. After her mother's death in the spring, Enna had become the mistress of this little forest house, but with a garden to tend, wood to chop, and a brother, a goat, and chickens to feed, she often forgot the fire.

It was not hard to do. A fire in a kitchen hearth was a quiet beast.

Of course, Enna thought, she would overlook the coals on a night when her brother and, more important, the flint in the kindling box were out wandering in the deep woods. So she walked to the house of her nearest neighbor, Doda, and borrowed a spade's worth of embers in her milking pail. She struggled home, gripping the hot handle with a rag and the end of her skirt.

The embers drew her eyes. They were beautiful, pulsing red in the bottom of the dark pail like the heart of a living thing. She looked away, and the orange coals stayed before her eyes, burning its image over the night. She tripped on a tree root.

"Ah, ah," she said, trying to regain her balance and keep the hot pail from touching her of spilling to the ground. She cursed herself for the hundredth time that night for being so careless, sought out the dark outline of her house, and headed for it.

"Strange," said Enna, blinking hard to clear her vision. There appeared to be a light in her window, and it was getting brighter. Enna ran through the yard and looked into the open window.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive
by Tasha Alexander

Trade Paperback: 310 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Released: 2005

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Emily agreed to wed Philip, the Viscount Ashton, primarily to escape her overbearing mother. Philip's death while on safari soon after their wedding left Emily little grief, for she barely knew the dashing stranger.

But her discovery of his journals nearly two years later reveals a far different man than she imagined--a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who apparently loved his new wife deeply. Emily's desire to learn more of her late husband leads her through the quiet corners of the British Museum and into a dangerous mystery involving rare stolen artifacts. To complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond matrimony into darker realms...

This book is a historical mystery set in the later part of Queen Victoria's reign. Though this book and the second book can be understood quite well when read out of order, information given in the second book does somewhat spoil the suspense in the first book. For maximum reading pleasure, I'd highly recommend reading this book before A Poisoned Season.

The world-building in this book is excellent. The problems Emily faces flow out of the historical culture (i.e. the story isn't simply a modern mystery occurring in a historical setting). The characters are interesting and change realistically throughout the book. There is kissing, but no sex. I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
Few people would look kindly on my reasons for marrying Philip; neither love nor money nor his title induced me to accept his proposal. Yet, as I look across the spans of Aegean Sea filling the view from my villa's balcony, I cannot doubt that it was a surprisingly good decision.

The Viscount Ashton seemed an unlikely candidate to bring anyone much happiness, at least according to my standards. His fortune, moderate good looks, and impeccable manners guaranteed that hapless females would constantly fling themselves at him in the hope of winning his affection. They missed his defining characteristic, ensuring that he would never pay them more than the slightest polite attention: Philip was a hunter.

I mean this, of course, literally. Hunting possessed him. He spent as much time as his fortune would permit pursuing wild beasts. The dignified (although I would not choose to describe it so) English hunt amused him, but he preferred big game and passed much of his time stalking his quarry on the plains of Africa. He could be found in London only briefly, at the height of the Season, when he limited his prey to potential brides. The image he presented could be described as striking, I suppose. He played the part of daring adventurer well.

My encounter with the dashing viscount began as such things typically do, at a soiree. I found the conversation lacking and longed to return home to the novel that had engrossed me all morning. Philip differed little from other men I met, and I had no interest in continuing the acquaintance.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

A Poisoned Season

A Poisoned Season
by Tasha Alexander

Trade Paperback: 315 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
First Released: 2007

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
London's social season is in full swing, and Victorian aristocracy can't stop whispering about a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. But he's not the only topic of wagging tongues. Drawing rooms, boudoirs, and ballrooms are abuzz with the latest news of an audacious cat burglar who has been systematically stealing valuable items that once belonged to the ill-fated queen.

Light gossip turns serious when the owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Lady Emily Ashton. It will take all of Emily's wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, while faced with a brewing scandal that threatens both her reputation and her romance with her late husband's best friend, the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

This book is a historical mystery set in the later part of Queen Victoria's reign. The world-building in this book is excellent as is the pacing. The characters are interesting and change realistically throughout the book. The romance in the story develops slowly. There is kissing, but no sex. I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
There are several things one can depend upon during the London Season: an overwhelming barrage of invitations, friends whose loyalties turn suspect, and at least one overzealous suitor. This year was to prove no exception.

Having recently come out of mourning for my late husband, Philip, the Viscount Ashton, I was determined to adopt a hedonistic approach to society, something that I imagined would involve refusing all but the most enticing invitations and being forced to cull disloyal acquaintances. This would allow me to enjoy the summer months instead of trudging from party to party, feeling like one of the exhausted dead, finding myself the subject of the gossip that fuels young barbarians at play.

However, it became clear almost immediately that my theory was flawed. Declining to attend parties proved not to have the desired effect. Instead of dropping me from their guest lists, people assumed I was in such demand that I was choosing to attend events even more exclusive than their own, and there are few better ways to increase one's volume of invitations than by the appearance of popularity. So for a short while--a very short while--my peers held me in high esteem.

It was during this time that I found myself at the home of Lady Elinor Routledge, one of the finest hostess in England and a long-standing friend of my mother's. By definition, therefore, she was more concerned with a person's societal standing than with anything else. Despite this, I had decided to attend her garden party for two reasons. First, I wanted to see her roses, whose equal, according to rumor, could not be found in all of England. Second, I hoped to meet Mr. Charles Berry, a young man whose presence in town had caused a stir amongst all the aristocracy. The roses surpassed all of my expectations; unfortunately, the gentleman did not.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross by Kathy Lynn Emerson

No Cover Available

Face Down Beneath the Eleanor Cross
by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Kensington
First Released: 2000

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
Nothing is as it seems when would-be widow Susanna, Lady Appleton, finds her official period of mourning interrupted by a cryptic message from her supposedly dead spouse. Shockingly, Robert is alive--but not for long...

Neither late nor lamented by his wife, Sir Robert Appleton summons a stunned Susanna to a furtive London meeting. Yet intead of a reluctantly anticipated martial reunion, the renowned herbalist finds her poisoned husband gasping his last breaths beneath the Eleanor Cross. Vowing to bring his killer to justice, Susanna embarks on a daring winter journey across the frigid English countryside. She swiftly discovers that there is no shortage of those who bore animosity toward Robert--most of them female. But which of the wealthy, wayward knight's mistresses is a murderess? His widow is determined to find out, aware that the gallows now awaits the most likely suspect: Susanna herself...

This book is a murder mystery set in 1565, and it is meticulously researched. (In fact, historical tidbits that aren't necessary to understand what's going on are frequently strewn throughout the story.)

Solving the murder mystery doesn't seem to be the primary focus of the novel since most of the book is spent with Susanna playing with her stepdaughter or with the other characters falling in love with each other. This is just as well since I was able to correctly identify the murder immediately after our introduction to that character and none of the red herrings shook that conviction.

I suspect this book isn't a good one to be introduced to the heroine, Susanna Appleton. She is placed in a position were she should have emotions: concern, worry, dread, saddness, etc. Except for brief flashes of emotion, Susanna seems remarkably unbothered by anything, from the loss of her husband to the threat to her life to the stress of confronting her husbands mistresses. To me, she came across as bland and unrealisticaly unemotional.

I also had a hard time thinking very highly of Susanna. She only asks her suspects some brief, obvious questions and trustingly accepts their answers. She never tries to dig deeper to find the truth and doesn't look beyond "the obvious suspects" until she's about to be sentenced to death. This wouldn't be a problem except that all the characters think her so astonishingly clever at solving murder mysteries.

Luckily, the secondary point-of-view characters are engaging even if sometimes I didn't understand why they acted the way they did.

Two unmarried characters do have sex, but it isn't explict. I don't recall any cussing. I'd rate this book as "fairly clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One

January 3, 1565

"Back again, eh? 'E's gone on without ye. In a powerful hurry, 'e were, too."

Susanna Appleton broke off her survey of the tavern known as the Black Jack to stare at its proprietor. Until a moment ago, she'd never set foot in the place, but there might be some use in letting his misconception stand, especially if the mysterious "'e" turned out to be the man she sought. "How long ago did he leave?"

The tavernkeeper was shorter than she, a small, wiry man in a canvas apron. When he took a step closer, Susanna smelled garlic and stale, spilled wine, a pungent and unpleasant combination when trepidation had already made her queasy. A pock-marked face and brown teeth did nothing to alleviate her first, negative impression.

"Come and sit with old Ned, sweeting," he invited, leering at her, "and I'll tell you everything I know. But let's see what's under the 'ood this time."

Before she could stop him, he flipped the heavy wool away from her face, narrowing his eyes to get a better look. As he leaned in, the stench of his breath nearly made her gag.

Repulsed, Susanna backed away. Beneath her cloak, she fumbled for the small sharp knife suspended from the belt at her waist. She could expect no help from customers who frequented a place such as this, and for once she did not think it likely she'd be able to talk herself out of trouble.

The Black Jack Tavern was as disreputable as the lowest tippling house. A smoky fire burned in the chimney corner, spreading its murky light over four rickety trestle tables in a windowless, low-ceilinged room. Around them, occupying rough-hewn benches and stools, with not a chair in sight, were more than a dozen patrons, men who appeared down on their luck and potentially dangerous. A few of them were eating, but most ignored offerings of cheese and meat pies in favor of beverages served in black jacks, wooden cans treated with pitch on the inside.

To Susanna's relief, a call for more beer distracted Ned. The moment he turned away, she fled, escaping into the narrow street outside.